Related to the full implementation of the four-year senior high school system, the Ghana government seeks to assure us it is on course in the provision of the needed classrooms and dormitories for the 495 assisted schools.
Yet the question here is, for once, there is the need for the government to give a thought about how the non-assisted/private schools sector too as to how they can cope with providing classrooms and dormitories due to the extra year.
The private schools sector is an inevitable partner in education and this was reteriated in the Ghana Education Reforms 2007 that:
“The Private Sector will be encouraged to increase its participation in the provision of educational services.” (unesco.org, page 3, line 12)
Statistics clearly indicate that a dishearting percentage of JHS leavers fail to gain entry in SHSs (private SHSs included). As such, the problem will only get worse if the non-assisted SHSs are unable to absorb their normal number of JHS leavers due to lack of classrooms and dormitories.
The children who enroll at private SHSs do not do as a choice for prestige as can be said of the trend at the primary and JHS levels. The assisted SHSs are obviously more endowed in terms of the government’s provision of staff, infrastructure, subsidised fees, free textbooks, etc.
However, none of these is extended to the private schools. This has always made the assisted schools the primary choice if not the only, for all. In the end, it is mostly children from more endowed backgrounds that get the highly competitive places. So it is then the less fortunate ones who have to settle for the private sector. I use the word ‘settle’ here not because the sector is any worse but here, they have to pay full fees and the majority are unable to enroll whiles a significant percenatage (about 40% at SUBSEC here) of the few who come through our gates drop out before completion.
At the same time the Ghana Education Service regulates and caps the fees chargeable by the private schools. Against the occasional cries by parents, Ghana National Association of Private Schools GNAPS and various stakeholders, the government has persistently refused to consider the need to subsidize the fees children in the private SHSs pay.
However, fees subsidies go to the benefit of the children and their parents directly just like their colleagues in the government assisted schools, and at the same time allow the non-assisted schools to generate some revenue to provide needed resources, be it human or infrastructural, like what the 4-year system is now calling for.
This is not to say that private SHSs would want to charge fees higher than the what the cap placed on us by the government allows because even the dermograpy of our intake as explained above even dictates the limit of fees. Apart from a few private schools in the metropolitan cities like Accra and Kumasi, in reality, most of the schools have their fees below the allowable limits.
Therefore, it is no wonder that only few private senior secondary schools do survive the test of time; and that the nation has not benefited enough at this level as it has at the basic school level. For instance, at Sunyani Business Senior High School (SUBSEC), most parents are peasant farmers and petty traders, and their income levels make it impossible to charge fees high enough to make the institution self-sustainable to provide standard resources and services.
In conclusion, the challenge the four-year SHS system brings is more than what the private sector partner has managed with so far. At least, if the government could access interest-free loans for the needy private SHSs from its development partners, it will go a lon way to help the private sector offer continued effective contribution in the education of the nation’s future leaders and manpower. Otherwise, the situation promises but one thing; failure to achieve the millenium goals of kicking poverty from our society.